Luminous at dawn and dusk, the Mekong is a river road, a vibrant artery that defines a vast and fascinating region. Here, along the world's tenth largest river, which rises in Tibet and joins the sea in Vietnam, traditions mingle and exquisite food prevails.
Award-winning authors Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid followed the river south, as it flows through the mountain gorges of southern China, to Burma and into Laos and Thailand. For a while the right bank of the river is in Thailand, but then it becomes solely Lao on its way to Cambodia. Only after three thousand miles does it finally enter Vietnam and then the South China Sea.
It was during their travels that Alford and Duguid—who ate traditional foods in villages and small towns and learned techniques and ingredients from cooks and market vendors—came to realize that the local cuisines, like those of the Mediterranean, share a distinctive culinary approach: Each cuisine balances, with grace and style, the regional flavor quartet of hot, sour, salty, and sweet. This book, aptly titled, is the result of their journeys.
Like Alford and Duguid's two previous works, Flatbreads and Flavors ("a certifiable publishing event" —Vogue) and Seductions of Rice ("simply stunning"—The New York Times), this book is a glorious combination of travel and taste, presenting enticing recipes in "an odyssey rich in travel anecdote" (National Geographic Traveler).
The book's more than 175 recipes for spicy salsas, welcoming soups, grilled meat salads, and exotic desserts are accompanied by evocative stories about places and people. The recipes and stories are gorgeously illustrated throughout with more than 150 full-color food and travel photographs.
In each chapter, from Salsas to Street Foods, Noodles to Desserts, dishes from different cuisines within the region appear side by side: A hearty Lao chicken soup is next to a Vietnamese ginger-chicken soup; a Thai vegetable stir-fry comes after spicy stir-fried potatoes from southwest China.
The book invites a flexible approach to cooking and eating, for dishes from different places can be happily served and eaten together: Thai Grilled Chicken with Hot and Sweet Dipping Sauce pairs beautifully with Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad and Lao sticky rice.
North Americans have come to love Southeast Asian food for its bright, fresh flavors. But beyond the dishes themselves, one of the most attractive aspects of Southeast Asian food is the life that surrounds it. In Southeast Asia, people eat for joy. The palate is wildly eclectic, proudly unrestrained. In Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet, at last this great culinary region is celebrated with all the passion, color, and life that it deserves.
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About the Author
Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid are photographers, writers, travellers and great cooks. Their first book Flatbreads and Flavors, won the James Beard Award for cookbook of the year and the IACP/ Julia Child Award for best first cookbook. Seductions of Rice, their second book, was chosen as cookbook of the year by Cuisine Canada. Alford and Duguid are contributors to Food & Wine, Food Arts, Gourmet and President's Choice Magazine. Their stock-photo agency Asia Access is based in Toronto, where they live with their sons Dominic and Tashi.
Read an Excerpt
The fabric of it all: At home, we have an old cherry wood dresser where we keep treasures from the Mekong. In it there are Hmong baby carriers painstakingly embroidered in reverse applique. There are Mien cross-stitch women's pants, and Akha bodices, shoulder bags, and leg wraps, all in the rich earthy colours so distinctive to the Akha. There are indigo children's shirts and vests made by the Tai Dam, hand spun, handwoven, and bleached by wear and many a river washing. There are elegant silk sarongs, Lao phaa nung, as fine in our fingers as a string of seed pearls. Every once in a while we open a drawer of the dresser and simply browse, transported by a wonderful faraway smell of wood fires and kerosene lanterns, of clothing made by hand, of memories of a way of life very different from our own.
Food and textiles are for us equally full of meaning. Both are art disguised as domesticity, personal expression woven into necessity, care and nurturing transformed into colour, taste, and feel. We get the same tingly goose bumps watching an Akha family arrive in the Muang Sing market, dressed for the occasion, as we do being taught a new recipe by Mae in Menghan. There is a sense of a tradition kept alive, and there is also incredible beauty.
When we are out on the road traveling in Laos, or in Yunnan, or in northern Thailand, often at night we'll sit in our hotel room, or out on a porch somewhere, and simply marvel at a piece of embroidery we were able to purchase in a local market. Or we'll work at repairing an old handwoven bag, or a pair of falling-apart indigo pants made from hemp. It's so satisfying to feel the fabric, to decipher how the embroidery is stitched, tostudy the coarse weave of the cloth.
On several trips, we have taken with us a patchwork quilt in a state of semicompleteness, a quilt we can work on in the evening or when waiting for a bus to come. It covers our bed at night, it gives a simple two-dollar-a-day hotel room a sense of home, and it is fun to have something to share with women who are always curious and appreciative (even though our skills are so crude by comparison).
When we walk into a Mien or Hmong village, someone is always embroidering: a young woman, an old woman, a group of women. A mother will be standing in a doorway, keeping an eye on toddlers playing outside, and in her hands will be a needle and thread, working away at a piece of embroidery. When we look closely at the fineness of the work, a minuscule Mien cross-stitch or Hmong reverse applique that demands the tiniest piece of cloth being turned over and stitched down, it is unimaginable to us how someone simply stands there casually and sews so meticulously.
And if we walk into an Akha village, or a Tai Dam village, or into practically any village in the region and look around, sooner or later we will find someone weaving or spinning. And when we watch Dominic and Tashi watch a woman as she spins or weaves, studying her feet and hands as she manipulates the wonderfully mysterious and complicated process, and out comes cloth, we realize we are just like them. We're in awe.
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Coconut Milk Sticky Rice with Mangoes
Many people first encounter sticky rice in this classic Thai-Lao sweet. Most are astonished and delighted and immediately want to know how to make it at home. The recipe is very simple. As with most of the sweets in Southeast Asia, you can eat Coconut Milk Sticky Rice as a snack or serve it as a dessert.
3 cups sticky rice, soaked overnight in water or thin coconut milk and drained.
2 cups canned or fresh coconut milk
3/4 cup palm sugar, or substitute brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 ripe mangoes, or substitute ripe peaches or papayas
OPTIONAL GARNISH: Mint or Asian basil sprigs
Steam the sticky rice until tender [Soak sticky rice for 12 hours beforehand, or follow instructions on package].
Meanwhile, place the coconut milk in a heavy pot and heat over medium heat until hot. Do not boil. Add the sugar and salt and stir to dissolve completely.
When the sticky rice is tender, turn it out into a bowl and pour 1 cup of the hot coconut milk over; reserve the rest. Stir to mix the liquid into the rice, then let stand for 20 minutes to an hour to allow the flavors to blend.
Meanwhile, peel the mangoes. The mango pit is flat and you want to slice the mango flesh off the pit as cleanly as possible. One at a time, lay the mangoes on a narrow side on a cutting board and slice lengthwise about 1/2 inch from the center--your knife should cut just along the flat side of the pit; if it strikes the pit, shift over a fraction of an inch more until you can slice downward. Repeat on the other side of the pit, giving you two hemispherical pieces of mango. (The cook gets to snack on the stray bits of mango still clinging to the pit.) Lay each mango half flat and slice thinly crosswise.
To serve individually, place an oval mound of sticky rice on each dessert plate and place a sliced half-mango decoratively beside it. top with a sprig of mint or basil if you wish. Or, place the mango slices on a platter and pass it around, together with a serving bowl containing the rice, allowing guests to serve themselves. Stir the remaining sweetened coconut milk thoroughly, transfer to a small serving bowl or crute, and pass it separately, with a spoon, so guests can spoon on extra as they wish.
NOTES: You can substitute black Thai sticky rice for half the white rice. Soak the two rices together; the white rice will turn a beautiful purple as it takes on color from the black rice. Cooking will take 10 minutes longer.
Unlike plain sticky rice, Coconut Milk Sticky Rice has enough moisture and oils in it that it keeps well for 24 hours, in a covered container in the refrigerator, without drying it out. Rewarm it the next day by steaming or in a microwave.
Quick and Tasty Yunnanese Potatoes
This is slightly chile-hot and very, very good, either hot from the wok or at room temperature. Serve as part of a rice meal with grilled or stir-fried meat, some lightly flavoured Chinese greens, and a soup. It also makes great leftovers, cold or reheated. We like the leftovers topped by lightly stir-fried greens and a fried egg. No extra seasoning needed.
2 pounds potatoes (see Note)
3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
5 Thai dried red chiles
1 cup finely chopped scallions or a mixture of scallions and chives or garlic shoots
1 teaspoon salt
Wash the potatoes well but do not peel unless the skins are very old and tough. Boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water until just cooked. Drain and put back in the hot pot to dry. When cool enough to handle, slide off the skins if you wish. Coarsely chop the potatoes or break them into large bite-sized pieces.
Heat a wok over high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan, then toss in the chiles. Stir-fry briefly until they puff, about 30 seconds, then add the potatoes and stir-fry for about 3 minutes, pressing the potatoes against the hot sides of the wok to sear them. Add the chopped scallions or greens and salt and stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Turn out onto a plate and serve hot or at room temperature.
Serves 4 to 6 as part of a rice meal.
Note: You can use leftover boiled potatoes for this dish. The proportions above are for about 6 cups cut-up potatoes. If you begin with less, reduce the amount of greens and chiles proportionately. And your potatoes may already be salted, so be cautious as you add salt to taste.
Table of Contents
The River, the People, the Food (7)
Dishes for Every Occasion (19)
Sauces, Chile Pastes, and Salsas (23)
Simple Soups (47)
Rice and Rice Dishes (87)
Noodles and Noodle Dishes (113)
Mostly Vegetables (146)
Fish and Seafood (171)
Snacks and Street Food (261)
Sweets and Drinks (289)
Glossary of Flavorings (308)
Glossary of Ingredients (313)
Mail-Order Sources (325)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book would be an excellent coffee table presentation even if it didn't have the authentic, and delicious, recipes in it. I highly recommend this collection of artistic and culinary experiences to anyone that is interested in Asian cooking...and EATING. It is also a bonus to know that the dishes presented here are healthful in lowering the risk of heart disease. A Great Read.